Internal Combustion Takes First Flight

Gary S. Vasilash

Although this might appear to be something out of Marcel Duchamp’s Large Glass


Archivnummer: D4790

it is, in point of fact, a replica of a portion of the motorized airship that was designed by Dr. Friedrich Hermann Wolfert and piloted by an employee of the Daimler Motor Company in August 1888 in what is claimed to be the “world’s first engine-driven flight with a combustion engine.”

The engine in question was developed by Gottlieb Daimler. It was a four-stroke, single-piston, two-hp motor that weighed 84-kg. It was fitted into the gondola of the airship.

The distance traveled in the flight: four kilometers, or about 2.5 miles.

What’s interesting to note is that back then, there was competition between engineers who were trying to find the best methods for flight. Apparently, in 1884 a group of French engineers attempted to use an electric motor in the La France airship, but it turned out that the combined weight of the motor and batteries was too much.

The internal combustion engine-electric motor competition seems to be a regular occurrence.